Beekeeper Al Pleasants may be one of the only North Carolina keepers to sell holy honey.
Pleasants invited his Baptist pastor, Ray Wickham, to bless six honeybee hives tucked into an informal apiary behind his printing shop on Hillsborough Street. Although many Triangle churches perform animal blessing ceremonies, usually just household pets show up, not swarms of insects.
Despite his intimate proximity to 300,000 bees commuting to nearby gardens, Wickham wore only jeans and a blazer for the brief ceremony Thursday. He read a well-researched blessing off an iPad.
“Be pleased to bless the bees and increase them for the profit of our race, preserving them and making them abundant,” he prayed.
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“By your good pleasure in caring for our lives, bless the beehives in their apiary, greatly increase the number of bees in them, preserve them by your grace, and fill us with their fruits.”
Pleasants, who lives in Cary, has cultivated 24 hives around the Triangle. He and his daughter, Sarah Myers, have run The Pleasant Bee honey business for the past seven years and sell their products at the Midtown Farmer’s Market at North Hills.
Myers is now president of the Wake County Beekeeper’s Association and works as an apiarist for the bee center at Bayer CropScience.
Bees and other creatures
Animal blessings are becoming more popular, and increasingly so in Protestant traditions, which do not usually perform such ceremonies. The tradition is most common in Episcopal and Catholic churches around Oct. 4, the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment.
As for bees, Pleasants is not the first to have his hives blessed. The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City held its first blessing of the bees in 2012.
Nathan Finn, associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Studies in Wake Forest, does not believe animal blessings will become popular in the Baptist tradition.
“While Baptists appreciate that animals are God’s creatures and that humans have a responsibility to care for animals and all of creation, I think most Baptists would not be comfortable with ceremonies like this that have no biblical precedent,” Finn said in an email.
His first animal blessing
Wickham, senior pastor of New Horizons Fellowship Church in Apex, first heard about animal blessings when Pleasants requested a visit.
“I almost thought it was a joke,” Wickham said with a laugh.
But after some research and Bible study, he discovered that the early church fathers blessed livestock, and bees in particular because of their value in the ecosystem.
“Bees are part of the abundant life that Jesus gives us,” Wickham said in his blessing. “Bees are the only insect with written prayers in the Christian tradition.”
He added that honey is mentioned 61 times in scripture. The Old Testament talks about Moses’ land of milk and honey and contains proverbs about its consumption. The New Testament mentions John the Baptist’s sole consumption of locusts and honey.
Not much has changed in history; about a third of food consumed in the United States requires pollination by bees, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Beekeepers have faced numerous challenges as the number of colonies has shrunk nationwide. Now, the 5 million colonies maintained in 1940 has shrunk to half that number due to weather and unknown causes.
“It only makes sense that we would want the blessing of God in this venture,” Pleasants said. “I pray for my bees every day.”
Pleasants says that he both starts and loses a few hives every year, which is considered normal for most beekeepers. He expects the “best possible outcome” after their blessing.
“Whatever happens is always going to be God’s will,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s going to hurt us.”